• Candace Waters

Can you sue yourself?

In 2017, the Utah Supreme Court answered this question in the affirmative. Bagley v. Bagley, 2016 UT 48, ¶ 1, 387 P.3d 1000 (Sup.Ct.). Barbara Bagley acting as the personal representative of her deceased husband’s estate sued herself in a wrongful death suit for negligently causing her husband’s death. She did this to obtain insurance money to pay creditors of the estate.

In 2011, Bagley was driving when she lost control of the vehicle causing it to flip. Her husband was thrown from the vehicle and sustained severe injuries. He died ten days later.

Utah allows a personal representative to sue the person who caused the death for damages under two different statutes. Bagley initiated a lawsuit as the personal representative under both statues against herself. By doing so, her insurance company, defended the suit on behalf of Bagley.

Defendant Bagley filed a motion to dismiss stating that the statutes prevent a person from suing herself and the district court granted the motion. Plaintiff Bagley appealed to the court of appeals which held that plain language of the statute does not bar this kind of action. Defendant Bagley appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld the interpretation of the court of appeals. In this case, it came down to the way the statute was written. The language did not specifically preclude a personal representative from suing herself.

The court noted that the parties were adverse (despite being the same person). Plaintiff Bagley as personal representative is incentivized to diligently litigate to obtain money for the estate. Defendant Bagley is incentivized to litigate and defend the suit per the terms of the insurance agreement.

The case ended up settling and Bagley did get some money to pay off creditors. So, there you have it. You can sue yourself, as long as the statute does specifically preclude it and you are suing in a different legal capacity than yourself.

You can read the full opinion here: https://law.justia.com/cases/utah/supreme-court/2016/20150182.html

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